Can Optical Coherence Tomography Be Used to Guide Treatment Decisions in Adult or Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis?

  • Jeffrey Lambe
  • Olwen C. Murphy
  • Shiv Saidha
Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders (J Graves, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders


Purpose of review

With the recognition that neurodegeneration represents the principal substrate of disability in multiple sclerosis (MS), there has been increased strives towards identifying biomarkers for accurately quantifying and tracking neurodegeneration during the disease course. The retina provides an opportune “window” into the central nervous system (CNS) in MS, with retinal changes in MS reflecting not only local, but also global aspects of neurodegeneration and inflammation operative in the disease. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a rapid, inexpensive, reproducible, high-resolution imaging technique allowing accurate quantification of discrete retinal layers. OCT determined thinning of inner retinal layers such as the retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) and in particular the composite of the ganglion cell and inner plexiform (GCIP) layers, predominantly related to optic neuropathy, have been shown to not only correlate with high and low contrast visual function in MS, but also global MS disability scores, as well as whole brain and particularly gray matter volumes. Rates of GCIP thinning have been shown to be accelerated among MS patients exhibiting inflammatory activity outside of the visual pathways, as well as disability progression during follow-up. Moreover, baseline RNFL thickness in MS has been shown to have utility for predicting future disability accumulation. On the other hand, thickening of the inner nuclear layer (INL) in MS, the pathophysiologic basis of which remains to be elucidated, has been found to predict the development of clinical and radiological inflammatory activity, as well as subsequent disability progression in MS. Given the potential for OCT to provide insight into neurodegeneration and inflammation occurring in MS, this review focuses on the potential utility of OCT within the clinical setting to influence treatment decisions for MS patients.

Recent findings

The evolution of spectral domain-OCT technology, with improved resolution and reproducibility allowing intra-retinal layer segmentation, has facilitated the determination that the OCT derived measure GCIP thickness is a highly accurate measure for quantifying and tracking neurodegeneration, and conversely neuroprotection, in MS. The strong relationships between rates of GCIP and brain atrophy across MS subtypes over time underpin the insight derived regarding the global MS disease process from OCT and highlight OCT as an excellent complementary tool to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for tracking MS patients. More recently, longitudinal studies are emerging which support the utility of OCT for monitoring the differential effects of disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) in MS.


Although further work is required, there is mounting evidence supporting the utility of OCT in the clinical setting to monitor disease course in individual patients with MS and to aid in the prediction of disease course. As pharmacological treatment options in MS expand to also include potentially neuroprotective and/or remyelinating or neurorestorative drugs, OCT as a biomarker of neurodegeneration and neuroprotection (and neuroinflammation to a lesser degree) may become an invaluable tool in both the research and clinical settings.


Multiple sclerosis Optical coherence tomography Disease modifying therapies 



This review was supported in part by a grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (RG-1606-08768 to SS).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Jeffrey Lambe and Olwen Murphy declare no conflict of interest.

Shiv Saidha has received consulting fees from Medical Logix for the development of CME programs in neurology and served on scientific advisory boards for Biogen-Idec, Genzyme, Genentech Corporation, and EMD Serono & Novartis. He has received equity compensation for consulting from JuneBrain LLC, a retinal imaging device developer. He receives research support from Genentech Corporation and the National MS Society and received support from the Race to Erase MS foundation. He is a member of the working committee of the International Multiple Sclerosis Visual System (IMSVISUAL) Consortium.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

References and Recommended Reading

Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Internal MedicineSt. James’s HospitalDublinIreland
  2. 2.Division of Neuroimmunology and Neurological Infections, Department of NeurologyJohns Hopkins HospitalBaltimoreUSA

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